TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -The timing of the announcement was the only surprise.
Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, who usually keeps players guessing until mid-March, pulled left-hander Jeff Francis aside before Monday's workout and informed him he'd get the opening-day start March 31 at St. Louis.
``What else do we need to go through this spring before we decide to give Jeff the ball? He doesn't need to compete. Without a doubt, for everybody internally that I talked to, he's our guy,'' Hurdle said. ``Basically, from the second half of the season all the way through the playoffs he was our No. 1 guy.''
The 27-year-old Canadian went 17-9 with a 4.22 ERA last year and then went 2-1 in the playoffs.
``It's just the next proper step for him,'' Hurdle said. ``He's earned this opportunity. I really felt good about giving him this opportunity. It's another first for him and he's just very deserving.''
Francis said he was surprised when Hurdle informed him of his decision 48 hours before the team's first exhibition game.
``I guess it's nice to get it out of the way, there's not going to be speculation, you guys aren't going to be speculating for the whole month,'' Francis said. ``So, it's nice to know.''
Hurdle said the usually even-keeled Francis was excited by the news.
``As I've said before, he's more like a lava lamp, but this had some significant meaning to him,'' Hurdle said.
Francis, who is 47-34 with a 4.68 ERA in four major league seasons, called it a great honor but insisted it wouldn't go to his head.
``When your career is over, you think back and you can say you were the opening-day starter,'' Francis told The Associated Press. ``But we're trying to do greater things. And once the season gets going, it's just one guy going out there every fifth day.''
Last spring, Francis narrowly lost out on the first-day start to right-hander Aaron Cook, who said last week he was anticipating Francis getting the nod this time.
``He gave me a big hug, the same way I did for him last year,'' Francis said. ``That's the way we work together. Whoever wants to be labeled the ace, we really don't look at it that way.''
Cook said he was thrilled for Francis, who matched the club's single-season record for wins in '07.
``He totally deserves it. It couldn't happen to a better guy,'' Cook said. ``And I told him I look forward to sitting and watching that first game instead of having to pitch it. I think he's really excited. One of your goals as a starting pitcher is to finally work your way up to get the opening-day start. It's just awesome. I know how it feels.''
Francis is scheduled to pitch two innings Wednesday when he starts the Rockies' spring training opener against the Chicago White Sox.
``It'll be nice,'' Francis said. ``You can only throw so many bullpens until it gets old.''

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